Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul met with representatives from the Long Island Farm Bureau on Wednesday to discuss the challenges facing Long Island farmers such as the cost of maintaining a farm, a rising minimum wage and the lack of young farmers.
Ms. Hochul talked about her history of growing up in a rural area of New York during the meeting with about 25 people at Martha Clara Vineyards and how she has a passion for supporting New York agriculture.
“The agricultural industry on Long Island is such an important part of the local economy,” Ms. Hochul said. “I wanted to come out here and talk on a first-hand basis to the farmers and find out what some of their challenges are.”
Rob Carpenter, the administrative director for the Long Island Farm Bureau, said one of his biggest concerns are the abundance of “for sale” signs on East End farmland. This brought up the issue of how expensive it is to run a farm on Long Island, something many farmers in the area expressed concern about.
“We believe that one of the major factors has to do with regulations and just the general cost of doing business,” Mr. Carpenter said. “The shortness of labor supply on the East End is tremendous.”
Finding people to work on farms is a challenge because of immigration regulations and the lack of an adequate guest worker program, farmers said. As the minimum wage eventually rises to $15 an hour, attracting young workers on farms will be harder, they said.
Ms. Hochul agreed that there needs to be a plan to get young people involved in agriculture and said the state government and local farmers will need to work toward finding a solution.
The group also discussed a new program that Governor Andrew Cuomo launched last week. The New York State Grown & Certified Food Program aims to increase the access to farm-fresh food and assure consumers that food they are buying is local and produced at a “higher standard.” Ms. Hochul said she has heard from people who live as far away as China say that if they saw a “New York State Grown” certification on their food, they would know it is of the highest quality. She said she thinks this is something New York farmers can capitalize on.
A farm needs two certifications —Good Agricultural Practice (GAP) and Agricultural Environmental Management (AEM) — to receive the “New York State Grown” designation.
“We didn’t want to make it any more of a burden,” said Phil Giltner, the deputy commissioner for New York State Agriculture and Markets. “We recognize that there is enough regulation.”
He added that farmers who already have these certifications can easily enroll in the new program.
However, local farmers who own smaller farms here on the East End have struggled in the past with GAP certifications because it can be a costly process, Mr. Carpenter has said.
Karl Novak, the general manager at Half Hollow Nursery in Laurel, asked what kind of financial support farmers could receive.
“Farmers are struggling now with making a profit,” Mr. Novak said. “And it costs money to achieve those certifications,” adding that it’s also time consuming.
Mr. Giltner said there is a program in place that will reimburse farmers for the cost of GAP certifications up to a certain amount. He also added they can receive assistance through the process to gain AEM certification.
Another topic of discussion was a way to help farmers export their products, in particular for aquaculture.
“We think that we have the cleanest water out here,” said Michael Osinski, a local oyster farmer and owner of Widow’s Hole Oyster Co. in Greenport. “The oysters that we grow in New York waters are excellent products and should be exported all over the world.”
Mr. Osinski, who has been an oyster farmer for about 15 years, said he and other oyster farmers in the area would like any help from the federal government to get it going.
“I think we can do a lot to move this conversation along,” Ms. Hochul said. She added that she wants to make sure the local farmers know that Mr. Cuomo understands how important it is to make sure this industry is viable and wants to create more opportunities for New York farmers.
“As much as you want [the government] off your back, we need to be on your side,” Ms. Hochul said. “Thanks for the great work you do. We need you. We need every one of you to continue what you are doing and we will be as helpful as we can.”
Photo caption: Rob Carpenter of the Long Island Farm Bureau speaks Wednesday next to Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul. (Credit: Krysten Massa)